zahara "So, Imrama, if you are feeling quite well enough, I would love to see the Fable again. I have a trip in mind."
Imrama pulls on his captain's jacket and grins broadly. "I confess, Empress, that I have several. My period of convalescence has given me much time to dream of flights I have yet to make." Imrama tossed his dreadlocks before tying them back. Zahara can see that they are different somehow - their coloration is mottled, four of them are no longer black, and they clack when they strike against each...
Imrama ...other. "Where would you like to go today?"
zahara grins wickedly, glancing to the others. "Malfaes."
Imrama rubs his hands together; his fingernails appear different, metallic with a rainbow sheen. "I approve mightily. Shall we invite the others along?"
zahara "But of course!"
zahara and they do!
Imrama 's bright, gleeful expression is untarnished by the darkness and noise of the Seven Leagues of the Looking Glass. The Fable's prow tills the storwracked sky of that strange place between worlds, en route to the prison-plane of Malfeas.
Even as months have passed, the Leagues have remained dark and stormy, still tormented by the death echoes of the Ebon Dragon, and so it is lucky for the Solars that they have such an experienced sailor as Imrama to ply their challenging waters.
Lucent is sat near the windows, a great harp on his hands, playing like a virtuoso and singing Bittersweet Love Stories, instilling the desire to love and tears in all, keeping the Silent Wind at bay.
Imrama turns his attentions from the sky before him to address the harpist. "Lucent, my dear friend. I am sorrowful sad to see you in such a state as this."
Lucent He waits for a point where his voice can stop, continuing the music from the harp, and smiles. "No need for sorrow, Imrama. I might be considering the bittersweetness of impossible love... but while it is within my grasp, there is hope, hmmm?" The smile brightens, "We are those who do the impossible."
zahara holds to Cerin's hand, listening to Lucent's song and watching the stormy landscape pass them by, attempting to suppress a surge of jealousy at his piloting skill and the obvious wholeness of his ship.
Cerin , for his part, is radiating a faint contentment into the unity they share, tinted with faint concern.
Varanim has been lounging in a corner with her hat tilted down over her face for most of the flight, apparently asleep but actually inside having an argument with Jardis. "If you're so smart, why are you dead?" she mutters snidely to herself as she comes out of it.
Varanim "Oh, are we there yet?"
And almost as if in answer to Varanim's question, the ship arrives upon the destination point where it must emerge into the Demon realm.
Imrama "Ahoy," Imrama calls out to his passengers and crew. "Welcome to Malfeas, the demon city. Pit of bested titans and home to broken progenitors. 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.'" He thinks for a second. "Except for us, of course."
On cue, the Fable bursts through the very walls of the worlds and into the skies above Malfeas. (...)
For those who have never seen the Demon Realm before, the place is a breathtaking -- and, perhaps, horrifying -- sight. The vastness of the Demon City stretches out in every direction, buildings of jet-black stone and polished brass joined to one another by a thousand times a thousand narrow, uneven bridges that sweep up and downwards with reckless abandon. (...)
And amidst the cracks in the ground, one can make out the pale glow of another world, the outlines of yet more buildings that hang beneath: for this city is only the nine-hundred and thirty-eighth Demon City, and all its progenitors lie like rotting onion layers within its rough husk. (...)
Far above these buildings are the towers of Malfeas, great ivory-and-horn structures that spiral upwards towards fluted endings that hang far above the city itself -- and rising yet higher than that are the roads that lead into the emptiness above, for the road-builders of Malfeas obey no rule or guide in their work. (...)
In the distance, one can make out the unique geography of the demon realm -- the vast, dark sea of Kimbery, the silver forest of Szoreny, and at the far distant borders, the shaded edges of Cecylene, the eternal desert -- and above it all, balefully shining at the peak of the sky, is Ligier, the green sun. (...)
All about, there are the noises of bells and percussion as the demons make their joyless music, the better to keep away the biting tongue of the deadly wind -- and throughout the streets, demons of every description throng and pass by, the incursion of Solar Exalts into this world barely even noticed.
Cerin "It is, yes," he says quietly.
Lucent The armor around Lucent shines brighter, appearing almost alive, the mark of Malfeas on its chest pulsing like the sun through the clouds. Lucent stopped the music for a moment to feel how it echoed through his armor... and then gazed upon it, once more. "Always the same. Always different."
zahara squeezes his hand, aware that this is not the first time he has seen the land. ::Are you alright, my love?::
zahara 's eyes skitter over to Lucent's armor and wonders if she can save him again.
Varanim ambles over, shooting a passing unreadable glance at Lucent's armor, then looking up to his face just long enough to raise her eyebrows before continuing to the windows to scowl out at the view.
Cerin ::Yes, this place just has memories:: There is a sense that not all of them are bad.
zahara nods thoughtfully. "Well. Our quarry lies above."
Lucent The feel of a hand on Varanim's shoulder even when there is none, of arms wrapped around her neck affectionately, and his voice through the ring, ::I thought you, of all people, would not get nervous with me having this...::
Varanim One corner of Varanim's mouth turns up a bit in a smirk as she contemplates the buried depths below the present city. ::Did I say anything? The next time you're moaning about my terrible soulsteel arm, though, I hope you trip on your breastplate.::
Imrama Ignorant of the many deep, meaningful conversations being conducted subtly aboard his ship, Imrama banks upward, to meet with the Green Sun.
The green sun burns with unimaginably intense fire, enough that even at a great distance the odd-feeling heat can be felt by the Solars across their skin. In fact, if anything, it seems to glow with a greater intensity now than it ever did before, as proud as it is to now shine unabated, to never again be subjected to the passing shadows of Nyx. (...)
Lucent ::The breastplate is going to get a Meru emblem instead. We have just been too busy to do it.:: Lucent says it, stopping his play. Adorjan would never come this close to Ligier, and so they were secure... in a way.
However, the sun also appears resolutely inanimate, and still quite distant, even from here.
zahara ::Hmm do you think we need to go inside, as we did to find Pluto?:: She conducts her conversation via the rings in order to not be overheard by the demons
The Solars wrack their brains to figure out the best approach to this particular dilemma. Lucent almost immediately provides that Ligier is quite well-known for his love of colocating in two, or often even more places throughout the demon city (the better to work, or simply joy in the pleasure of his own brilliant light)... (...)
Zahara and Cerin are able to quickly confirm that Ligier's shining, skybound form does not currently appear to have much in the way of motive attention paid to it, and Imrama quickly suggests a set of possible locations where the demon might be known to spend his time in the city below --
while Varanim simply offers the useful suggestion that, perhaps, Ligier might be something of an important personage around here and so someone else might know where he was?
Lucent "So, Cerin, can you try to find him? His Essence will be connected to the Sun above, so..." He grins to him, "It is a hunt." As Lucent says that, he closes his eyes, breathing deep... "Of course, he can still burn us by being close. I can prevent that."
Lucent "As you see, Varanim, demons cannot be trusted. Asking for directions here is foolish."
Cerin "I think they can reasonably be trusted to send us to the nearest place where we might find someone able to forcibly eject us from Malfeas. Ligier, say."
Varanim "Gosh," she replies with wide eyes, "that never occcured to me." Then she nods at Cerin. "Yes, the 'annoy people until they give us what we want' approach. I'm having fuzzy Thirteen flashbacks; shall we?"
Lucent ::Are you that eager to risk meeting Sarifen again, Cerin?:: It comes together with the sound of a mental palm to the face. "Now you are speaking nonsense just like Varanim! Go ahead! Do that, then!"
zahara sighs. "Please stop bickering."
Lucent crosses his arms.
Cerin ::I fail to see how he is any more risky to meet than Ligier. Or any of the other third circle souls we are liable to meet here. We are not coming here for sightseeing, after all::
Imrama , who doubts his own ability to make his friends stop bickering, at least with words, directs the Fable down to one of the Malfean locales that number among Ligier's likely haunts: the Hollow Palace of Bitter Gaul.
Imrama ::But the opportunity for sightseeing is a happy accident of our coming here.:: Imrama thinks, craning his head over the bow to spy the wondrous horrors of the Demon City.
Varanim ::What's put the sand in your shorts, anyway?:: Varanim adds to Lucent as she joins Imrama in rubbernecking.
A hollow palace it is indeed: a grand building of seven irregularly-sized wings, each trimmed with liberal quantities of Malfean brass, set upon a tiny island amidst a vast river of ichor, and led into by five drawbridge gates -- of which only one is lowered at at time. (...)
A series of glows -- of various colors -- shine out periodically from the numerous, but tiny, windows that irregularly dot the outside walls of the building -- though it is hard not to notice that many of those... are green.
Lucent pinches some part of Varanim from afar and watches the sights without much of an answer
Lucent "Never been here. Hmmm, it IS pretty."
Imrama sets the Fable's aetherial anchor a few dozen feet over the palace, and begins his descent to the open gate.
Lucent steps in right after Imrama, harp in hand, playing as they go
zahara follows after them solemnly.
Cerin walks alongside Zahara
Varanim shuffles along at the rear, looking skeptical about the whole thing or possibly just looking forward to her next drink.
Lucent ::There are people here I would rather NOT meet again. At least, not with you close.:: He whispers through the ring to Varanim, after a moment of silence.
Lucent's harp-playing joins with the music within, for inside the great building, demon courtiers perform an epic -- if somewhat jarring, to human senses -- opera, while from somewhere far deeper within, a constant clanging sound serves as the percussion. (...)
The demon building seems quite full, as befits a place of its stature -- a place in which any three (no more and no fewer) Third Circle Demons might hold sway on matters of their own import to the demonic hordes below them, but one which Ligier has claimed one of the three spots within for almost the entirety of Malfeas' existence. (...)
The hallways run awkwardly up and down, left and right, past odd brass statues and gently murmuring crowds of angyalkae, as befits the demon realm and its taste for... odd architecture.
Varanim ::Oh, don't mind me. I'm just along for the laughs,:: Varanim sends back to Lucent, as she inspects the palace with interested yet jaundiced eye of a professional tourist in bad places.
zahara "Well. This should be fun."
Lucent stops close to an Angyalkae, and begins to communicate through the sounds of their harps, gossamer strings to strings of time, and asking a simple question in a simple way: 'Which way to the Green Prince?'
"Strrrrrrum," say the harps of the angyalkae. (This way, to the Forge of Nine Unrealities.)
Lucent 'Trynnnnnn' He answers a compliment, turning to the Circle. "This way!"
zahara vaguely wonders if she should turn infernal just to fit in
Lucent strides forth that way, his anima wrapping him in Hesiesh's clothes, immune to heat and flame
The hallways wind up and down, left and right, but ultimately they lead downwards, until finally there is a place where two different hallways join together in one, and plunge into a stairway leading well below the main castle -- and as they draw nearer, the clang becomes more of a CLANG, and then a CLANG.
Lucent Hesiesh's clothes dissipate in wisps that surround the Circle, the sun appears on Lucent's chests as his anima flares, and as in the South there is a feel as if they were disconnected from their surroundings, in Lucent's world. Lucent keeps going down. "He is working."
Varanim ::So what exactly is the deal, here?:: Varanim inquires generally. ::I'm assuming that as per usual for visiting important people, my job is to try not to roll my eyes too loud.::
Imrama ::I cannot see anything in your natural state of relating to others that could interfere with our agenda in this case. In fact, if you see an opportunity to make Ligier weep openly at your contempt for him, I would rather encourage it.::
Soon, the group of five have descended to the lowest depths of the castle, and as they reach the bottom of the stairwell, a brilliant, neon-green light shines out to meet them. (...)
In the chamber at the bottom of the castle lie four anvils; and upon each of the anvils is a different twisting shape, of a different metal; and in a pattern of perfect unison, four identical youths, beautiful and delicate of face, their auburn hair mussed, their skin glowing with the unimaginable light of the powerful green sun, their chests bared except for a small black cloth strung across their solar plexi... (...)
Each one swings a brass hammer, one step removed from the others, and in order, the four Ligiers go: CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG, upon their four projects, until, deliberately and without surprise, one of them notices his visitors -- and all four cease their works....
Lucent folds his hands before him, anima shimmering through the Testament. "Hello, Ligier."
zahara bows precisely enough to be polite, to the four. "Hello."
Varanim leers moderately at the view.
Imrama 's anima is also at its height, its scrolling banner marking him as an emissary of Yu-Shan carries no weight here, but it shines brightly none the less. One of the clockwork birds alights on his shoulder, watching the four suns. Imrama raises his right hand with fingers splayed in a traditional sign of peaceful greetings between adversaries. "Greetings, First Soul of Malfeas."
The Ligiers step forward and merge into one another, and as they do, it is as if the resulting demon is, somehow, even more grand and intimidating; and as he steps towards them, his mouth turns up on one side in a cruel grin. "Aaaaah, you have come here to see me: little warriors... and poor, lost apostates." He looks directly at Cerin as he says this, but turns his attention with a fiercer glare to Lucent after.
Imrama interposes himself between the now singular Ligier and Lucent. "You are attempting to intimidate my friends. This will not work. We know what we are, and why we are here." Imrama says calmly and matter-of-factly.
Lucent shivers at that, feeling the pull of the armor from which he had been one of its three smiths. "It has been a long time, Green Sun." He says with only the barest inflection in his voice, "Millenia was kind on you."
"You do? That puts you half ahead of I, little Solar, for I know only what you are." And he looks, with a cruel twinkle in his eye, at Lucent once more.
Lucent shakes, the light of his banner appearing as a... glow, around him. Barely countained. "I am not that."
Varanim "Please don't," says Varanim in a slightly bored tone. "Staring at him only encourages him."
Lucent shoots Varanim an angry glance... and back at Ligier, pointing. "We did not come for that."
Imrama "More to the point, Green Sun, I know what you are." Imrama's eyes flash with a bright and fiery confidence.
Ligier looks at Imrama with a bit of surprise. "You do? I feel call to laugh, little one."
Imrama "I know what eats at you in the night that no longer comes. I know the way you brushed her cheek and counted the hairs on her head. I know what rapturous, shameful shadows lurk in the heart of the sun. I know you Ligier, and I have nothing but pity for you."
Imrama ::Lucent, if I might prevail upon you for a performance. Images of illicit love lost, guilty pleasures of the heart and flesh. The best you can muster.::
Ligier "W...what?" the great demon sun says, a little taken aback by Imrama's words. "You know nothing."
Imrama "I know everything, poor, self-denying sun. I wonder though. What will the others think when they know?"
Lucent ::I can muster the best.:: Touching the harp, Lucent disrobed his soul. He ceased to exist, being only the presence about him, unfurling his soul as he turned himself inside-out and it was ripped out, memories from before, tales of bittersweet love. Of himself, White Orchid and Kadel. How she wanted him, despite her love for Kadel, how he took her in, despite his friendship.
Lucent How that brought tragedy, discovered, how that shattered husband and wife, brought him to kill her, and then himself, weaving the memories of Kadel, his eyes, how he felt upon being betrayed, Lucent's own, their illicit love broken with the weight of reality and how wrong it was, how it shattered their lives... all of them felt it, from all three of their perspectives. Kadel's wrath, Orchid's shame, Lucent's guilt.
Lucent And he went on, to Alveua, and then to others... Larquen's first love found on Netheos, Ravi's love of the demon Mara and how she attempted to break his eye, and he still loved her enough to go through Cecelyne as it flayed his flesh. Loves through planes, through existence, illicit loves, broken loves, and none of them could ever end well.
Lucent Only broken lives in their wake.
Lucent The last note, and the harp shattered in his hand, as Lucent looked at Ligier, the emotions washing upon him. "We were always so much more than you imagined, but you see it. It always ends in tears."
Ligier "You know nothing!," the demon prince shouts, anger upon his voice, and the form of his great, curved brass sword flies into his hand from an unseen location.